I’ve always cringed at research (and opinion) that suggests that optimists, or just people with good attitudes, are healthier. It sounds very much to me like a “blame the victim” mentality: If you’re sick, it’s because of your bad attitude. It leads to insulting comments, such as telling people with blinding headaches or painful arthritis (afflictions that, unlike a bad cold, tend not to be apparent to others) that they should just get up and do something, make themselves feel better, stop whining and giving in to it.
Yet there is something going on here that perhaps we shouldn’t ignore. Some fairly impressive data does suggest that people with good attitudes–happy people–are healthier and suffer less from chronic illnesses. The obvious reason is that (big surprise!) if you are healthier, you tend to be happier; feeling good makes you happy, and being ill can definitely put a damper on your mood.
However, studies that adjust for the fact that healthy people are happier come to the same basic conclusion: Regardless of other factors, happy people are at less risk of chronic illness. So I’ve been rethinking my knee-jerk reaction to these “optimism is good for you” studies (although I’m still not totally convinced). And in the process, I was reminded of something Rosemary Gladstar said in her book Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal: “ … I believe,” wrote Gladstar,“that heartbreak–not the classic heartbreak of breaking up with your first sweetheart, but the loneliness of spirit so many people experience today–is the underlying cause of most heart disease.” She goes on to say, “There is no greater benefactor to well-being than the satisfaction of a well-lived life.” When you put like that, it sounds less like blaming the victim and more like actually listening to and treating the patient.